Jump to: Quadrantids, Lyrids, Eta Aquariids, Tau Herculids, Southern Delta Aquariids, Perseids, Orionids, Leonids, Geminids, Ursids, or Other Sources of Meteor Activity
2021 was a complete washout for me as far as meteor showers--I didn't do a single formal meteor observing session and didn't even get in any casual viewing of showers around their maxima. Blame clouds, and for the Perseids and Southern Delta Aquariids, persistent summer smoke. We'll see what's in store for 2022, which is already a mixed bag due to moonlight.
This page gives observing prospects for the 8 most dependable and prolific meteor showers for Northern Hemisphere observers (descriptions will be most accurate for mid-Northern observers in North America), plus a couple of potential showers or wildcards. The biggest problems for visual meteor observers are the weather, natural light pollution from the Moon, and artificial light pollution. The Moon is predictable and unavoidable, and I have listed the lunar phase and amount of interference with each shower below.
In 2022, both the Perseids and Geminids are badly affected by moonlight. I would note that I have seen decent Perseid rates under a Full Moon before, and that the Geminids have a very short moon-free evening period. But both will be strongly diminished as far as maximum observable rates. Timing is also a factor; I live in Oregon, and my longitude isn't optimum for the predicted peaks of the Quadrantids, Perseids or Geminids. On the other hand, the Perseids in particular have shown some variability in peak timing in recent years, so it remains true that the best time to be observing is when the radiant is high in a dark sky from your location. Those Quadrantids are moon-free, so if it's clear, give them a go. There is a potential for interesting activity at the end of May from the Tau Herculids, a shower associated with fragmented comet 73P. I consider this a true wildcard, and would be surprised if much comes of it, but will make plans to try to cover it. The Leonids could also show something this year, although also uncertain and again affected by moonlight. There is the potential for an occasional Taurid fireball in early November, but that's more of something you might notice while walking or driving than anything to plan a dedicated observing session around. I'll even throw the Ursids in around the end of the year, as they won't be affected by the Moon. So, there isn't a "can't-miss" shower for 2022, but lots of opportunities if the weather is good for you.
Basic Meteor Observing Information
Several factors determine how many meteors you will see from a shower.
* One of the most important is the elevation of the shower's radiant when you're watching. For most showers, the radiant is highest in the morning hours, and that's when you can expect the best rates. If the radiant is near or below the horizon, don't expect to see any shower meteors even if the sky is dark. For each shower, I list a "WHEN TO WATCH" window when the radiant is at a useful elevation. The local times I list in "WHEN TO WATCH" should be broadly valid for most sites in North America, regardless of your time zone or exact location. You may want to look up the beginning of morning astronomical twilight for a given date at your location. This can be found from planetarium software or some weather websites. I find that skies are still good enough for meteor observing for 15-30 minutes after the beginning of morning twilight.
* Clear, dark skies are essential for a rewarding meteor-watching experience. This is why the Moon causes so many problems--it's just natural light pollution. Get away from artificial light pollution as best you can--don't expect to see many meteors from an urban or suburban location. The light wipes out the fainter meteors and makes the moderately bright ones less noticeable. Try to get to a location where the Milky Way is easily visible. Obviously, clouds are a deal-breaker as well.
* The actual activity level of the shower has a big impact, of course. But I put it third on the list of factors because you have little control over it. The year's best showers generally have one night/morning that they are most active. The peak of activity may last for a few hours to many hours, but the exact timing is usually uncertain. Nevertheless, I list the "predicted maximum" time for each shower (based on past observations and the IMO Meteor Shower Calendar) along with conversions to Pacific and Eastern times. If the peak time occurs during your daylight hours (or during the night but before the radiant is high in the sky), pick the productive observing time that is nearest the peak (my "WHEN TO WATCH" gives suggestions).
* Your personal visual perception and experience also factor into how many meteors you see. For best results, make sure your eyes are dark-adapted (don't expose them to any bright or not-so-bright lights for a half-hour or so before you begin observing) and that you are comfortable.
* I get quite a few questions about "where to look". "Where to look" is usually fairly easy: center your field of view high in the darkest, least-obstructed part of your sky. If you have tall trees or an overpowering city light dome in one direction, you probably should face another direction. You don't have to look right at the shower's radiant. Indeed, you'll probably see fewer meteors if you do. But it's also nice and productive to keep the radiant somewhere within the field of view. If there's a bright Moon in the sky, keep it out of your field of view or try to block it with something, like a tree or a car or a chair...
Not all the meteors you will see will belong to the major shower. Sporadic (random) meteors are visible every night of the year. From dark sites, 5 to 15 or more sporadics may be seen each hour. Sporadics are most numerous in the predawn hours, when the Earth is running head-on into a lot of cometary debris. There are also minor showers active at the same time as most major showers. Most of these produce 0 to 2 meteors per hour even at peak activity.
When a meteor appears, make a note of its path against the stars. Hold a long shoestring or cord up against the sky at arm's length along this path. If you extend the meteor's path *backward* along the cord, does it eventually cross or come close to the shower's radiant? If so, the meteor was probably a shower member. If not, the meteor was not a shower member. The "radiant charts" show the position of the radiants in the sky, along with some simulated shower meteor paths. The paths are just examples, and they aren't completely accurate due to the projection required to display the apparent dome of the sky on a flat screen, but they should give you some idea of what to look for when you wonder whether a meteor is a member of a particular shower.
Predicted Maximum: January 3, ~20:40 UT (= 12:40pm PST; = 3:30pm EST)
Moon: New Moon (no interference)
WHEN TO WATCH: The 2022 Meteor Shower Calendar from IMO says that the predicted peak timing favors Asian and Eastern European longitudes. This is bad news for North American observers. You can pick your poison and observe the morning of Monday, January 3rd or the morning of Tuesday, January 4th. I would go with the morning of the 3rd, and would expect 15-30 Quadrantids per hour under pristine conditions. You want to be out during the last couple of hours before morning twilight (4-6am in Southern Oregon, time at your location may vary). Particularly at far northern latitudes, and particularly in the eastern part of North America, you may want to go out on the evening of Monday, January 3rd just after the sky gets dark and look north for a few long-pathed Quadrantids.
The Quadrantids are one of the three strongest annual meteor showers, but are not well-known compared to the Perseids and Geminids. The Quadrantids peak in the dead of winter, and the radiant is far enough north that tropical and southern hemisphere observers don't see much from the shower. The peak is usually rather abrupt, lasting only a few hours. Also, while circumpolar from latitudes north of 40 degrees North, the radiant is poorly placed for most of the night--low in the sky during the evening, and then getting lower and skimming the northern horizon for hours until after midnight. All this means that the shower is often wiped out due to weather and that observed rates often fall short of their potential. I have fond memories of the 2009 Quadrantids, when I hit the maximum under good conditions and saw 133 Quadrantids in an hour. But most years something goes wrong.
Quadrantids are medium-velocity meteors. The shower usually produces quite a few fireballs around the time of maximum activity. The radiant is in a rather blank area surrounded by the constellation figures of Bootes, Hercules, Draco and Ursa Major (see the radiant charts). Under dark skies, expect a decent number of sporadic and minor-shower meteors in addition to the Quadrantids.
Report: I was able to observe for 77 minutes on the morning of January 3rd. Conditions weren't great (stinging wind picking up snow from the ground and flinging it at me), but considering that the forecast was for clouds I was fortunate to be out under mostly clear skies. I saw 21 Quadrantids and 14 other meteors. Obviously, anything resembling the peak was many hours away, but this was my first meteor observing session in over a year, so I'll mark it down as a success.
Predicted Maximum: April 22, ~19:00 UT (= 12:00pm PDT; = 3:00pm EDT)
Moon: Waning Gibbous (moderate interference)
WHEN TO WATCH: The morning of Friday, April 22nd is probably the best bet. The timing is not ideal for North America, but the peak of this rather marginal major shower does seem to be a bit variable in timing and strength. The Moon is just before Last Quarter and will rise in the morning hours, but is far to the south so it rises later for northern observers. From my location in Southern Oregon, I get a couple of hours between midnight (when the Lyrid radiant is at about 30 degrees elevation and I would expect to see half the ZHR), and moonrise (when the radiant is considerably higher and I would expect to see nearly 80 percent of the ZHR). Depending on the shower activity, I would expect the ZHR to be 10-15 at that time. So, 5-12 Lyrids per hour. The morning of Saturday, April 23rd is another opportunity, with a later moonrise giving another hour or so of decent viewing, but is farther from the predicted peak. But 5-10 Lyrids per hour are certainly possible from dark skies, or more if you get lucky with the peak timing.
The Lyrids tend to produce 10-20 meteors per hour at maximum, so they aren't on par with the strongest annual showers. The radiant is between the bright star Vega and the Keystone of Hercules. Lyrids produce fairly fast meteors with a reputation for being faint on average. However, I've seen my share of Lyrid fireballs. Sporadic and minor-shower rates are fairly low at this time of the year, but you should still catch a few meteors per hour that don't trace back to the Lyrid radiant.
Predicted Maximum: May 5/6 (broad)
Moon: Waxing Crescent (no interference)
WHEN TO WATCH: The Eta Aquariids are only visible for a short period around the time morning twilight begins. The nominal predicted peak is around Friday morning, May 6th, but the activity is broad so one of the adjacent mornings could be just as good. The Moon is a waxing crescent this year, and will have long set by the time that the Eta Aquariid radiant rises. The key to seeing Eta Aquariids is to watch during the last bit of darkness and through astronomical twilight (see below for timing).
The Eta Aquariids usually have the fourth-strongest maximum among the major annual showers, but are difficult to observe. The radiant doesn't rise until the morning hours, and is still very low when twilight starts to brighten the sky. The situation is better for Southern Hemisphere observers, who may get a few hours of observing time. For northerners, the key is to watch during the last hour or so before twilight gets really bright. In terms of local time this depends on your latitude and also on your longitude with respect to the center of your time zone. Check an almanac or planetarium software. At latitude 42.6 degrees North, I've had my best results from about 3:30-4:30am local daylight time.
The low radiant elevation (in the "head" of Aquarius) means that the earliest ETAs you see will be "earthgrazers": long, relatively slow and often tracing paths along the horizon. Bright earthgrazers are spectacular. Unfortunately, because of their greater distance from the observer, earthgrazers tend to be faint. As the radiant gets a bit higher, the ETAs take on more of their typical appearance: fast meteors, bright on average and often leaving a glowing train. You'll only catch a few of them, though, because dawn is approaching. This shower seems to fluctuate irregularly, and you could easily hit either a spurt or a lull during the all-too-brief observing windows. I expect between 5 and 15 Eta Aquariids per hour from my site.
Predicted Maximum: May 31st, ~5:00 UT (= May 30th, 10:00pm PDT; = May 31st, 1:00am EDT)
Moon: New Moon (no interference)
WHEN TO WATCH: The Tau Herculids are a potential shower associated with comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann. The comet has split into a number of fragments, and the shower is predicted because the fragmentation should have produced a lot of dust and particles in a stream that will now be encountered by Earth. Everything is a bit speculative, however. This is not an annual shower. Dust trail modeling shows that the Earth should come closest to the stream on May 30th-31st.
Modeling has been very accurate regarding timing of outbursts of other potential showers, but very poor regarding the strength of those outbursts. While the headlines always say that "a meteor storm is possible", they bury the lead that it is also possible that not much will be seen. Remember the Camelopardalids or "209P-ids" in 2014? A possibility of strong rates was advertised with that shower, but 3-5 meteors per hour showed up. There could be a few of those again this year on May 25th, but we're not hyping them. The pessimist in me says that this year's Tau Herculids will be similar; the optimist in me will make plans to be out just after dark on the evening of Monday, May 30th. Timing is important--if the predicted time is correct, the peak will be before dark in the northern and western portions of North America. But the rest of the continent should be fine--watch for at least a couple of hours, as close to the predicted maximum time as possible. We really don't have solid information about the duration, intensity or brightness of this shower.
Any Tau Herculids that appear will be very slow. Despite the name, the shower's radiant is in Bootes, not Hercules.
SOUTHERN DELTA AQUARIIDS
Predicted Maximum: July 30 (broad)
Moon: Waxing Crescent (no interference)
See the 2020 version for a radiant chart that illustrates the radiants in the Aquariid-Capricornid complex. The position of the planets is different this year, but everything else is the same.)
WHEN TO WATCH: The nominal peak for the Southern Delta Aquariids is the morning of Saturday, July 30th. The shower is pretty active for a day or two before and after this date.
The Southern Delta Aquariids are barely a major shower from 40 degrees N; southern observers have a somewhat better view. On a clear, moonless morning a North American observer might see 5-10 South Delta Aquariids each hour along with 15-25 meteors from other sources. Most of this activity, including the Southern Delta Aquariids, is faint on average. You need clear, dark skies to even begin to see a decent number of these meteors. Minor showers active at the time include the Alpha Capricornids (1-2/hour), Anthelion (1-3/hour), Piscis Austrinids (<1/hour), and the early part of the Perseids (~3/hour). Sporadic (random) meteors are also usually pretty prolific. Determining which shower a meteor came from can be a confusing exercise (see the radiant chart), and involves path length and velocity as well as alignment.
Predicted Maximum: August 12th-13th
Moon: Full Moon (major interference)
WHEN TO WATCH: The Perseids are messed up by the Moon this year. The Full Moon is up all night on both August 11/12 and 12/13--there is no golden hour when the Moon is below the horizon and the radiant is high. If you want to see a greatly diminished Perseid display, choose either the morning of Friday, August 12th or Saturday, August 13th. Keep the Moon behind you and block it with a tree or car. Get to the clearest, cleanest air you can find. Under ideal conditions, I would expect 15-25 meteors per hour. If I had to choose, I would go with Saturday morning.
The Perseids are probably the most-watched annual meteor shower, but often disappoint people who are expecting a show with no effort. I am not sure why some people insist that they were out under good sky conditions for a sufficient amount of time and didn't see anything. Most likely, either the sky conditions weren't that good or the "observers" were distracted or not dark-adapted. In any case, when I've been at star parties for the general public for the Perseids, a good time has been had by most.
The shower has a very long duration, from about July 15th through August 25th, but is most interesting around its peak on August 12th or 13th. In recent years, sometimes the peak rates have come up to a day later than predicted.
Perseids are fast meteors and tend to be fairly bright on average. This combination means that many Perseids will leave a glowing wake or train behind that persists anywhere from a fraction of a second to many seconds. Expect to see a few fireball-class Perseids (magnitude -3 or brighter), especially if you watch for multiple hours. Morning Perseid watches usually feature a good number of sporadic and minor-shower meteors, although this year the Moon will probably restrict those rates to 5 per hour or so.
Predicted Maximum: October 21/22 (broad and irregular)
Moon: Waning Crescent (moderate interference)
WHEN TO WATCH: The mornings of Friday, October 21st and Saturday, October 22nd should be the best opportunities to observe the Orionids near their maximum. Start at around 1am and continue until moonrise. On the 22nd, the Moon is probably thin enough that it won't be that much of an issue even after it rises.
The Orionids are capable of producing interesting activity from October 17th through the 25th. Traditionally, the shower produces maximum ZHRs of about 25, with enhancements to 50 occurring occasionally and irregularly. The shower's activity is unpredictable; often one morning (perhaps even the nominal maximum of October 21st or 22nd) may be dull while another morning during the activity period is very active. I never know what to expect from this shower.
The Orionids are fast meteors, perhaps a bit faint on average but the shower has some larger meteoroids capable of producing fireballs. As with the Eta Aquariids, the Orionids are debris associated with Halley's Comet. Note that the radiant is north of Betelgeuse and not right in the middle of Orion (see the radiant chart). The Orionids are joined by several minor showers (the Taurid complex, the Epsilon Geminids, and the Leonis Minorids) that each typically produce 1-2 meteors per hour. You'll also see at least a few sporadic (random) meteors each hour from dark sites.
Predicted Maximum: November 18-19
Moon: Waning Crescent (moderate to major interference)
WHEN TO WATCH: Watch during the morning of Friday, November 18th or (more speculatively) the morning of Saturday, November 19th. The 18th is closer to the "normal" peak of the shower, and the 19th may feature a dust trail encounter and outburst. The Moon is a thick waning crescent on the 18th and is in a bad place (in Leo, so not far from the radiant). It is thinner and rises later on the 19th. Timing for possible outburst on the 19th would be around 6h UT (1:00am EST, marginal for the East Coast of the United States, but the radiant is too low for points farther west). The Leonids are truly a morning shower; the radiant doesn't rise until around 11pm at mid-northern latitudes, and barring exceptional activity is too low to see much for a couple of hours after that.
The Leonids are well-known for the spectacular storms they have produced in the past. Occasional enhancements in rates are possible even in non-storm years, but for the most part we are looking at around 10 Leonids per hour.
The Leonids are very fast meteors, and brighter ones often leave glowing wakes or persistent trains. Sporadic activity is usually pretty high and sometimes even outdoes the Leonids.
Predicted Maximum: December 14, ~13h UT (= 5am PST; = 8am EST)
Moon: Waning Gibbous (major interference)
WHEN TO WATCH:
The Moon is a complicating factor for the 2022 Geminids. Without considering the Moon, the morning hours of Wednesday, December 14th are likely to produce the highest rates. With the Moon up, the rates will probably be cut by at least 50%--get to the clearest, cleanest and driest air to reduce the impact of the Moon. Since the Geminids can often produce rates of 80 per hour or more from dark-siy sites, half that isn't too bad. From mid-northern latitudes, late evening watches can also be worthwhile on Tuesday, December 13th and Wednesday, December 14th. On the evening of the 13th, the Moon rises at 9:45pm from my location. The Geminid radiant is up in the early evening, but is low for a couple of hours after it gets dark. If the shower is doing well, however, there will be some impressive meteors visible even if rates aren't that high. During the last hour or so before moonrise, the radiant will be reasonably high and I would expect to see 50-60 Geminids before the moon starts blotting out the fainter ones. On the evening of the 14th, the Moon doesn't rise until around 10:45pm where I live, so there are a couple of hours with the radiant high and the sky dark. Unfortunately, previous years' data have shown that the ZHR is dropping rapidly by this time, down to about 30. So Geminid rates may be 15-20 per hour from the West Coast on the evening of the 14th (a bit better from the East Coast). Historically, post-peak Geminids have a brighter magnitude distribution than those before the peak, so that might be some consolation for low rates.
The Geminids are often considered the best annual shower, especially in locales where winters are mild. The peak is broader than the Perseids and much broader than the Quadrantids, so it is easier to catch high rates.
Geminids are medium-speed meteors. Most of them don't leave glowing trains, but the brighter ones are often colored (yellow, green and blue are most common, and I usually see some fireballs with a violet tinge). The Geminids seem to produce quite a few fireballs, especially during and just after the peak. Pre-peak Geminids are fainter on average. Quite a few sporadic and minor-shower meteors (including the fast Sigma Hydrids) join the show from dark sites.
Predicted Maximum: December 22
Moon: New Moon (no interference)
WHEN TO WATCH: If you're up for a challenge, consider watching for Ursids on the morning of Thursday, December 22nd. There is no moonlight interference. Watch for the last few hours until the beginning of morning twilight.
The Ursids often appear on major shower lists and supposedly have a maximum of 10 meteors per hour, but I'm not sure they belong there on a regular basis. This year's favorable moonlight conditions give an opportunity to see what can be seen from the Ursids. I've only had a couple of successful Ursid observations, in 2004 and 2006. The shower seems to have a short peak with activity nearly nonexistent other than on one night/morning each year. Ursids are Geminid-speed meteors with a reputation for being faint.
Other Sources of Meteor Activity
The major showers listed here are fairly reliable and occur every year. However, meteor activity is visible on any clear night. Random sporadic meteors, minor showers, and major showers near the beginning or end of their activity period all contribute to this "background". For the Northern Hemisphere, there is a general pattern of lower rates during the first half of the year and higher rates during the second half, but rates vary greatly from hour to hour, day to day, and observer to observer. Occasionally, unexpected high activity occurs. It is up to the observer to objectively describe what was seen. In many cases, high activity may be ascribed to randomness. Rarely, many of the meteors seen may be members of a periodic or previously unknown shower.
Other Meteor Shower Info.
General shower attributes and predicted times of maximum are adapted from personal data and also from the International Meteor Organization's 2022 Meteor Shower Calendar. Recent data at https://www.imo.net/members/imo_live_shower was also examined. Radiant charts were produced using maps from the free Cartes du Ciel application. All on-site text and contents are Copyright 2020, 2021, 2022 by Wes Stone and may be reproduced for not-for-profit use so long as credit is given.